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Full text of "The Loom Of Language"

50O                The Loom of Language
economy The expression word-economy may suggest two, if not three,
quite different notions to a person who meets it for the first time One
is ability to frame different statements, questions, or requests with the
least number of different vocables Another is ability to frame the same
utterance in the most compact form, le with the least number of
vocables, different or otherwise Economy of the first sort implies a
minimum vocabulary of essential words Economy of the second calls
for a large vocabulary of available words Since it is not difficult to
multiply words, the fundamental problem of word economy from our
viewpoint is how to cut down those which are not essential for self-
expression. There remains a third and more primitive way in which
economy may be achieved We can save breath or space by contracting
the volume of a word or word sequence, as in U S S R for Union of
Socialist Soviet Republics., or Gestapo for Geheime Staatspohzei (Secret
State Police).
At first sight it may seem a hopeless task to construct a vocabulary
that would cover all the essential needs of intercommunication, yet
contain not more than, say, a thousand basic words A modern news-
paper assumes acquaintance with perhaps 20,000, and m the Enghsh
section of a very humble English-French pocket dictionary some
10,000 are listed It requires no lengthy scrutiny to discover that a
large portion of the material is not essential A rationally constructed
word list would discard many synonyms or near-synonyms, of which
Anglo-American is chock-full, eg little—small, big—large, begin—
commence It need not tolerate such functional overlapping, as band—
ribbon—stnp It would also steer clear of over-specialization by making
one word do what in natural languages is often done by three or more.
Thus the outer cover of the human body is called la peau in French,
that of the onion lapelure, and that of the sausage la cotte. Though less
fastidious than the French, we ourselves overburden the dictionary
with the corresponding series skin—nnd—jacket—feel When we
distinguish between thread—twine—cord—strung—rope—tow we are
merely heaping name upon name for what is ultimately a difference in
Since our interlanguage pursues strictly utilitarian ends and seeks
perfection in precision, it can do without some of the verbal gewgaws
and falderals of poetic and "cultured" speech There is no need to
incorporate a large number of words to express subtleties of attitude.
We could safely replace the existing plethora of vocables denoting
approval or disapproval by a bare handful of names. But rejection